Those close to Roscoe Smith share a favorite phrase.
When speaking of Smith, a Baltimore native and 6-foot-8 Nevada-Las Vegas forward entered in Thursday's NBA draft, they repeat a pair of words, over and over.
It's not necessarily a nickname, but his trainer, high school and college coaches all refer to Smith in one way or another as the epitome of a "hard worker."
Those two words find their way into sentences after his name because those around him say Smith is always the first player in the gym and the last to leave. He can't wait until practice ends so he can shoot extra shots by himself. And when he's not on the court, his sanctuary is the weight room.
"He worked in the weight room, worked on the practice court, worked in games," UNLV coach Dave Rice said. "He was just an absolute worker. He never took a day off, never took a play off.
"That's just Roscoe."
But what Smith has learned this offseason — since deciding to forgo his senior year and declare for the draft — is that sometimes hard work doesn't immediately resonate with the people he needs to impress most.
Improving his stock
Despite averaging 11.1 points per game and ranking fifth in the nation in rebounds with 10.9 per game this year, Smith was not among the 60 players selected to participate in last month's NBA draft scouting combine in Chicago.
Smith was disappointed he wasn't invited to the combine, but he continued his work in the gym and weight room. He traveled to Los Angeles, where he began improving his game and strength with hopes to secure pre-draft workouts with NBA teams. Then he spent time back home working out with family friend Dwayne Wise, who's developed a respected reputation for his ability to mentor and train some of Baltimore's top basketball players.
"That was the best thing that could've happened to Roscoe because it made him work that much harder," Wise said of the combine snub. "Not getting invited to the draft combine, I think it really, really motivated him. He looked at it as more of a positive thing. He's always been the kind of player that thrives when his back is against the wall."
Leading up to the draft, Smith has heard questions regarding his ability to play on the perimeter, where he'll likely see the most time if he makes it to the NBA.
Rice said Smith is the type of player who does anything for his team to win. At UNLV Smith was needed inside, so most of his point production came within 12 feet of the basket. This season, Smith made only two 3-pointers on 10 attempts.
But that doesn't mean the long-armed forward lacks range.
"He can really shoot the heck out the basketball," said Kevin Bridgers, Smith's coach for three years at Walbrook High.
Smith just needed the reps and to improve his core to be NBA-ready, Wise said. Given Wise's background in the Navy, core work is his specialty. So the trainer drew up a detailed workout regimen and paired Smith with another one of his other mentees, St. Frances grad and 6-7 UNLV commit Dwayne Morgan.
"A couple days a week, it would start at 5 o'clock in the morning," Wise said. "We'd get them up, get three miles running in. After they'd get their miles in we'd do swimming, which was the second portion of the day. Then from the swimming, we'd do all skill work later on in the evenings … get a series of 500 shots up."
Eventually, the invitations to work out for teams rolled in, culiminating with him working out for his 16th team, the Washington Wizards, on Tuesday.
Wise said he believes Smith's rejuvenated perimeter skills can mesh with his 7-foot-11/2-inch wingspan and natural athleticism to make him a versatile player in the NBA.
"Something people don't know is Roscoe grew," Wise said. "He was 6-foot-7 coming out of high school and now he's pushing 6-foot-9 ... which I think has improved his stock as a power forward with some small forward skills."